10/27/2011 10:23:00 AM SEMINARIAN'S DIARY Chopping for life
BY BRIAN SLEZAK
It was a damp, wintry day as we walked out to the woodpile. Balancing chopping mauls on our shoulders, the metal handles working their way through the muscle, we kept our hands free to say the Rosary and carry the other things we needed.
After about a Rosary's length, we arrived at the woodpile, half-exhausted. We looked at the wood scattered about and, without hesitation, kicked chunks of wood free from the frozen ground and got to work.
I remember expending nearly all my energy on one piece of wood before I gave up and tried my luck on another piece. I was glad that the other men seemed not to notice my poor judgment and inability to do what men have been doing for hundreds of years to provide warmth for their homes.
As I recall, we didn't get much work done that day, but I knew our reason for being there was for something greater - part of a long struggle for justice.
Most people are surprised to hear that a group of men studying for the priesthood choose to split wood in their spare time. They are even more surprised to hear that they are splitting wood to help pregnant women care for their soon-to-be-born children.
Mundelein Seminary's Chop-For-Life program was started a few years ago by ambitious seminarians who wanted to use their free time and energy to support women in need. Every Saturday, anywhere from five to 15 seminarians rise early, attend 6:30 a.m. Mass and grab coats, hats and gloves to spend the morning splitting and stacking wood, turning felled hardwood trees from the woods of the seminary grounds into aid for women.
The program's motto, "Taking a chop out of the culture of death," is a reminder of the need to combat the ever-present alarming assault on life.
Once the wood is stacked and left to cure for 9 to 12 months, it is sold to local homeowners at a reasonable price. The proceeds are given to "The Women's Center," an organization in Chicago that helps women who need financial assistance as they prepare to have a child or who struggle to cover the costs of raising a child.
These are women who have courageously made the decision not to have an abortion when the world so often encourages them to choose otherwise.
When I was first invited to participate in the Chop-for-Life program, I didn't know what to expect. We can think that we have nothing to offer or that we should remain indifferent to the pro-life movement.
I once read that there are few ways in modern society where we can actually contribute or even directly save the life of another, other than through the pro-life movement. Those who do sidewalk counseling in front of Planned Parenthood can attest to this, because many have dissuaded a woman from ending her pregnancy.
Sometimes, pro-life counselors are simply a voice of compassion and support when the women needed it most. At Mundelein Seminary, there are a number of men (in addition to those chopping wood) who pray in front of abortion clinics in Chicago each Saturday.
But building the culture of life means more than just convincing a woman to keep her child. There are many reasons women consider abortion: pressure from parents, a boyfriend or spouse; fear of jeopardizing their future; or because they live in poverty.
A few weeks ago, The Evangelist published some startling statistics: 42 percent of women of the 1.1 million women who had an abortion in 2008 were living below the poverty level. The Chop-for-Life program responds to that material need.
In the letter of St. James, we read: "If one of the brothers or one of the sisters is in need of clothes and has not enough food to live on and one of you says to them, 'I wish you well; keep yourself warm and eat plenty,' without giving them these bare necessities of life, then what good is that?"
Over the years, Chop-for-Life has contributed more than $10,000 to these women in need. Although this is a fraction of what's needed, our world will be a better place because a life was fostered through our efforts.
I believe our labors help us to share in a fraction of the sufferings that women struggling to raise a child are going through. United with the sacrifice of the Mass, we offer all of this up for the building of this culture of life.
Like my first day at the woodpile, working for the pro-life cause can feel awkward. We wonder what our friends will think if they saw us standing in front of an abortion clinic. We can say that it is "none of my business," or, "Who am I to judge," or, "I don't think I should impose my beliefs upon another."
We may feel we are not getting anywhere and be tempted to give up, especially when so-called "Catholic" politicians claim to be personally opposed to abortion but vote in favor of it.
Nothing should stand in the way of choosing, in some way, to support the culture of life. Abortion is not a Catholic issue. It is a human life issue. It is an issue of justice.
Through prayer, seeking out women in need, financial contributions, writing and voting for authentic pro-life candidates - or even doing something as unconventional as splitting wood - we help build the culture of life.
Christ's love extends to every human being. Human life has a supreme dignity and demands equal justice. No institution or person has the right to destroy it.
The Church designates October as Respect Life Month. It is also the month of the Rosary. Through Mary's maternal intercession, may our efforts assist the culture of life to flourish in our communities and throughout the world.
(Brian Slezak is studying for the priesthood for the Albany Diocese at Mundelein Seminary in Chicago, Ill. He is a native of St. Margaret of Cortona parish in Rotterdam Junction, now a mission of St. Joseph's in Schenectady.)
This is part of The Evangelist's ongoing series of reports from diocesan seminarians on their studies, work and development. To read previous installments, search for "seminarian diary."